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Women, Power and the Media - an international conference

A groundbreaking international conference at Aston University in Birmingham, UK this month will critically examine contemporary issues surrounding women, power and the media.

With a special emphasis on politics, speakers from across the world will discuss how prominent women in, or attempting to gain, power (for example Ségolène Royal in France and Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the first female President in Africa) are represented in today’s media.

Women are increasingly gaining access to positions of political power. A female Head of State has recently been appointed in Chile, Germany, Jamaica, Liberia and South Korea. In France, the latest presidential campaign was fought with the prospect of the country having its first female president (a possible future scenario in the USA as well if Hilary Clinton runs for President).

So how do the print, broadcast and online media currently represent women in political power? How might its representations affect the way they are perceived by the public?

Dr Pierre Larrivée from Aston University, who is Co-organiser of the 15th September conference says: ‘The increasing presence of women as political leaders challenges traditional social conventions that, until recently, have been based on a gender-based division of roles and have constructed political leadership as a male responsibility. Femininity and power have been commonly seen as incompatible. This raises the question of whether the growing prominence of women in political leadership roles in any national context is matched by the social reception of female leaders.

‘This reception can be examined by looking at the language used to name, portray and qualify women in the public forum. This allows us to explore asymmetries that exist with respect to femininity and power and to demonstrate how these are linguistically constructed in the public domains. The media is a particularly fruitful domain of study for such investigations, as it shapes and is shaped by received social conventions.

‘Several of our September conference papers will focus on the treatment of Ségolène Royal in the French and British press, examining whether (and to what extent) gender still constitutes a limitation to holding the highest political offices.

‘Another paper will examine perception of women MSPs in the Scottish media and another will look at media misrepresentation of African women in politics, particularly the case of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Africa’s first female president.’

Sally Hoban | alfa
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